I lost a very dear friend about a week ago. She was my nurse, office manager, and friend. She was Ginny. Ginny came into my life about eight years ago as I assumed the responsibility of medical director for a multi-location clinic. I spent about as much time with her as I did my family, she was my “work wife.”
About nine months ago I became concerned with her rapid loss in weight. She passed it off as watching her diet and trying to lose weight. My repeated statements of concern that the weight loss she was experiencing wasn’t normal fell on the typical deaf ears of denial most health care providers are victims of. We provide care for others, being the sharpest of clinicians identifying the red flags that hint us towards the darkest of diagnosis, but when it comes to ourselves, we fall into diagnostic denial. All the signs and symptoms we learned of are all of a sudden not applicable to us. Is this truly denial, a fear-based defense mechanism or is it a resignation and acceptance of the fact that we know what the outcome is so why bother?
A few years ago I had a conversation with some physicians I was working an urgent care shift with. We discussed the futility of medicine. As providers, we have all experienced or heard of cases where everything was perfect, and the outcome should have been good, but despite that the patient passed. We’ve had the converse happen as well when we thought our patient was not going to make it, but against all odds by some miracle they survived. As far from science as it may sound the general consensus was that a higher, divine power was at work.
I have thought of that conversation often since then. I’ve argued both sides of it. A particular question presents itself, “Why go into medicine then if we aren’t going to change anything?” I do believe each of us is put on this earth with gifts that we are intended to utilize throughout life to help each other with. I do believe God puts us in each other’s way so we can fulfill whatever predestined path we may have. As physicians, we care for the sick when they seek it and do what we can to make them well.
I had been telling Ginny for months to let me check her out. Could I have been more persistent? Did I not push hard enough to get her checked? All the “what ifs” we ask ourselves make us think we have some form of control over the situation of life and death.
Granted as I write this I know I’m spitting in the face of everything we’ve been conventionally taught about medicine, and maybe I’m just doing this to make things easier to process from a psychoemotional standpoint; I do know it has helped me realize and remember that life and death are in God’s hands, and we are merely his instruments.
John Abraham is a physician.
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